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Now I'll never grow up to be Batman...
Jason Schachat's Weekly Breakdown
November 19, 2004, page 2

This week, Jason wrote so danged much we had to break it down into parts to save our sanity and his.

Here's page 1 if you missed it.

If there were only one fanboy joy to be found in time travel stories, it would be seeing how things turn out in superheroes’ futures. Who dies, who gets married, who goes bad, who takes up the mantle. Teen Titans #18 has that in spades.

Building on last month’s revelation that half the team become villains in the future, the story twists again by revealing that the future Flash is a double agent for the less homicidal half of the Titans. Most of the Teen team escape their dark counterparts’ grasp when Deathstroke breaks free from their torture chamber, but Robin is captured and given a tour of a local graveyard by the future Batman.

I’m still a little pissed at Geoff Johns for his continued attempts to push Batman from paranoid control freak to downright a**hole, but I’m proud of the man for reaffirming that the Dark Knight would never become a murderer. You also have to love the assorted headstones that foretell the fates of Bruce Wayne “Beloved Husband” and Carrie Kelly (Robin in The Dark Knight Returns).

It’s nods like these, the re-habilitation of Deathstroke’s daughter Rose, the demonizing of Raven, and the possible resurrection of Donna Troy that make this issue pull all of a fanboy’s heartstrings. You can’t help but love Mike McKone’s clean superhero art, and I just busted up when I saw how much future Cyborg resembles his current television counterpart. Recommended.

I’m starting to regret getting involved in Terra Obscura volume 2. It would have been soooo damn easy to just call it quits when the first series petered out, but some perverse force (other than Yanick Paquette’s pinup quality superheroines) called me back. I’m really wishing I screened that call…

Terra Obscura v.2 #4 of 6 starts us off with a small battle between the members of S.M.A.S.H. still defending the Earth and the Tsunami Squad, a band of Japanese villains who sank the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and are back to do the same today. The fight wraps up with a sudden exit on the part of the villains, and we then find ourselves thrust into Tom Strange’s quest to recover Captain Future’s damaged spaceship.

But, surprise of surprises, the Terror has launched his own spaceship to take out Strange and capture the rocket and all its time travel secrets for himself. Of course, he also drags along an unwilling Miss Masque, comfortably shackled to the ceiling of a shrine made in her honor. Tom and the lovely Pantha (who looks more like Jennifer Connelly than ever) take the sudden appearance of the Terror’s ship as a good sign, at first, but things quickly change after he fires that death ray at them.

The artwork here is as gorgeous and buxom as ever, but, honestly, why did Alan Moore start this project up? Was Terra Obscura such a fascinating chapter of Tom Strong that we needed multiple miniseries? I’ve appreciated some moments in the story, but, when you consider that Tom Strong continued Moore’s work on Supreme (rebuilding the superhero), isn’t it ironic that Paul Hogan’s Terra Obscura echoes Watchmen more closely than any other work since?

And, when I say that, it’s not a compliment. This series deconstructs superheroes pretty viciously with the continued rampage of the Terror, and Tom Strange comes off as little more than a meathead. However, the stories lack the amazing plotting that made Watchmen a classic. The “Science Heroes” of Terra Obscura are superheroes in all but name and don’t even have the nostalgic quality of Tom Strong and company. If there’s any joy on Terra Obscura, I’ve yet to find it.

Hearts a-fire...
Ultimate Spider-Man #69 treats us to a feel-good team-up between Spidey and the Human Torch, following last issue’s debacle when Johnny accidentally stuck his hand in a bonfire and “flamed-on”. Having given up on school, dating Liz, and any hope of a more normal life, Johnny drops out and asks Peter and M.J. to have Liz meet him at a nearby playground to talk. Unfortunately, M.J. knows Liz will never show, but what if Peter were to slap on his Spidey-jammies and give Johnny a pep talk?

This issue is a great example of Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley working together to deliver an involving story that’s heartfelt, humorous, and even a little exciting. Johnny and Spidey’s talk is almost a reverse of the heart-to-heart they had in Ultimate Spider-Man Super Special #1 (which, technically, never happened due to the messed up continuity of the Ultimate Fantastic Four) that serves to boost Johnny’s morale while giving Peter some reason to resume his duties as Spider-Man (though he’s still retired).

Next issue’s Doctor Strange team-up promises to destroy Ultimate Universe continuity once again (Ultimate Marvel Team-Up, you’ll never know the damage you’ve caused…), but this issue will energize readers after the murky territory of the last couple issues. It’s a good book for the money that’ll leave you happy. Recommended.

Brian Vaughan’s run on Ultimate X-Men has scared me, at times. Say what you will about the goofy things Mark Millar and Bendis did when they were scripting the book, but Vaughan has managed, in his short run, to bring Mr. Sinister, Apocalypse, and Gambit into the Ultimate Universe. Next month, he’s dusting off Longshot.

Horrifying, isn’t it? But, somehow, he’s made it work. Ultimate X-Men #53 avoids the common pitfall of wrapping everything up with a fistfight and instead injects a few dozen doses of conflict into the story. The team bickers all along the way to rescue Rogue, Iceman swatting away Kitty Pryde as he continues to fool himself into thinking Rogue’s his true love. Wolverine trudges to the rescue as only he can and takes out Gambit before Rogue can confess she has feelings for the Cajun. Still, that doesn’t prevent her from chewing Wolvie out and fracturing the careful emotional balance that keeps him with the team.

The strength of these last two arcs has been Vaughan’s love for old school X-Men. It may also be the greatest weakness. Oh, I’m not complaining. His bad girl characterization of Dazzler is as interesting as the character’s ever been. The way he’s dealt with Rogue and Gambit gets a big thumbs up from me, and, man, it’s fun to see these teenagers act their age for once!

However, this also means it isn’t hard to see where plotlines are headed. Mark Millar surprised us when Jean Grey slept with Wolvie before hooking up with Cyclops, and that really shook up the tired old love triangle. Rogue going for Gambit? It’s the curse of all Ultimate books: repeating what’s come before (I already fear that Dazzler will hook up with Longshot next month). But Vaughan’s managed to keep the team fresh enough and create enough drama to make this book a good buy. Andy Kubert’s work isn’t quite up to snuff, but I get a feeling we’ll be longing for it when Stuart Immonen takes over art duties. Still, I’m a fan.

…yet I’m not a fan of Vampirella or Witchblade, so it probably wasn’t the best idea for me to get Vampirella/Witchblade: Union of the Damned. Certain books appeal to certain people, and, sometimes you just have to accept that your tastes are different. And I do. But, in the meantime, this book did suck.

Everything goes to hell (literally) when Witchblade and her cop buddies are interrogating a little girl who’s been carrying a severed head around the city. Her “mother” arrives and coats the walls of the interrogation room with blood, prompting Vampirella to show up so all the girls can be transported to the underworld. The occasion? Why, Vampi’s going to marry the son of Satan, of course! Too bad she doesn’t know it.

So, why should you get this book? Good question. Damn good question. Well, if you go for seeing busty hotties plowing through ranks of demons with their bladelike hands, leaving them covered in the blood and entrails of their enemies… well, even then it isn’t that good. The story is shallow, the humor is labored, and the art is boring. The only thing worse than buying this book is buying the alternate covers at three times the price. I can’t be certain, but I think even Vampirella and Witchblade fans would agree this isn’t worth the walk to the store.

Okay, this is actually #12, but just posting a Walking Dead cover causes Jason to tremble with girlish anticipation..
Right on the heels of last week’s The Walking Dead #12, The Walking Dead #13 staggers into the light with a new arc and a great jumping-on point. Following their expulsion from the one place our heroes have been with both plentiful food AND non-deceased residents, the weary travelers come upon a remote penitentiary that promises enough security and canned goods to keep them alive and well.

However, as is always the case, the potential home is infested with zombies, and a massive firefight breaks out as hordes of shambling corpses leak out the doors of the prison. After securing the outer yards, the group beds down for the night, keeping their guard up for wandering zombies but generally settling in to the idea of having a safe home at last. Though that may change after they discover what’s locked inside the depths of the prison…

Damn, this book is good. This outing gives us zombie guts flying left and right, but what scares us most are the quiet moments, and there are plenty of them. The perspective shifts around the group, taking in the kids playing a game of go-fish while their parents sweep through the prison, Rick’s wife Lori coping with her pregnancy and the horrifying notion of bringing life into this dead world, and the teenagers’ continued preparations for rebellion.

Frankly, it’s hard to find a comic with better drama than The Walking Dead. It scares you with the simple implication that death lurks around every corner, yet, despite that, puts the characters and their everyday problems on center stage. If Kirkman could write everything he does like this, he’d be the new Alan Moore and then some.

This year’s Wildstorm Winter Special reminds us why we started reading their comics in the first place: mouth-watering art. Divided into four separate short stories, this 40 page (not counting ads) oneshot showcases Josh Middleton (recently of NYX), Cary Nord (Conan), Scott Iwahashi (cover artist for iCandy), and Carlos D’Anda (Stormwatch) and their four completely different yet delicious styles.

“The Survivor”, written by Bruce Jones tells a tale in the early history of WildC.A.T.s, when Sister Zealot was still a young warrior on the Kheran homeworld. At her coming of age, she must do as all immortal Kherans and try to conceive a child (only one in a thousand Kheran women can conceive, and only one of those babies will live through the birth). However, Zealot desires nothing more than the life of a warrior, so what will she do when pregnancy forces her to abandon that life?

Tom Peyer gives Cary Nord plenty of space to scrawl “Two Dangerous Ideas”, an Authority tale of a depressing idea so powerful that merely hearing it will drive you to suicide. Apollo and The Midnighter are visited by alternate versions of themselves (named Pluto and Daylighter) who foretell of the carnage this idea has spread before reaching their reality. But how do you stop an idea?

Not content to leave us with just one Authority story, Will Pfeifer pens “Small World, After All” so we can have our daily dose of Jack Hawksmoor. This short revolves around a washed up super-villain Walt Disney who invents a device that allows him to travel through the dimensional barrier known as the Bleed. Jack pursues him as best he can, but when one of the doors opens to an amusement park world bent to the will of the evil animator, it looks like his luck may have run out.

Bringing the outing to a close is Allen Warner and Carlos D’Anda’s “Deathblow Gets Dusted”, a weak story of the uber-soldier’s run in with a hallucinogen-breathing mummy. He hallucinates, sees dead children, chases the mummy through South American ruins, and hallucinates some more. However, the extremely sparse narrative is saved by D’Anda’s exciting layouts and Carrie Strachan’s edgy color scheme.

All in all, I’d say the Wildstorm Winter Special is worth the five dollar price tag based on the art alone. Middleton’s characters are exciting and unique, making what could otherwise be a boring twist in WildC.A.T.s continuity an important chapter in the saga. Cary Nord’s dirty stylings (much like his work on Conan) give Tom Peyer’s foolish tongue-in-cheek story more life than it deserves, and Scott Iwahashi’s lines have all the twisted joy of a Ralph Bakshi film.

If you want solid, powerful writing, this isn’t the book for you. That said, it looks gorgeous. Recommended.

Tell me about the snow rabbits, Victor...
Requested Review of the Week

“Mike S” sent me an email request a couple weeks back for “more Batman”, probably in response to our lack of coverage for the months-long “War Games” crossover. Well, Mike, never fear! We’re back on the case, and, just to show you how serious we are, this week we’re looking at the oft ignored but nonetheless Bat-tastic Batman: Gotham Knights.

Okay, maybe not quite Bat-tastic.

Batman: Gotham Knights #59 finds Batman held at gunpoint by Mr. Freeze, then flashes back a few times to show us how we got here. Turns out Frosty has a thing against summer and has constructed new weapons he calls “Icicle Bombs” to freeze the city. Unfortunately, the largest one blew up and set the building on fire, forcing Freeze to make an igloo around himself and the captured Batman. Though, with the igloo melting in the blaze, who’s to say they have a chance of making it through this alive?

Needless to say, this script isn’t Bat-tastic (though I am getting hooked on that word). Robbie Morrison does the same misinterpretation of character that made his take on The Authority so painful. Freeze is too emotional, by far. Batman spends most of his time cracking jokes and the rest of it looking sort of grim, but it isn’t until the end that he displays any ingenuity. Of course, that ingenuity is so over the top, even the most hardcore Bat-fan will roll their eyes.

Aside from being the purest Bat-title to come out this week (and, yeah, I’ll stop hyphenating the word “Bat”), the main reason I chose Batman: Gotham Knights was to see Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard in action on a color book. Suprisingly, the results are superior to most of his work on the aforementioned title. Adlard’s pseudo-realistic style drinks up colors far better than graytones, and the book is filled with an edginess that almost makes up for the utter lack of tension in the script.

But not quite. The good news is that this issue’s a oneshot. The bad news is it’s as captivating as a coupon book. Detective Comics regularly does this sort of story far better, and I’d advise anyone looking for a quick Batman fix to look there instead.

Remember, if there’s a book you want to see reviewed, let us know! Drop a line in the fanboy forums, and we’ll do our damndest to hunt your book down.

Hot Predictions for Next Week: Adam Strange #3, Daredevil #67, Invincible #17, Sleeper Season Two #6, and Supreme Power #13.

One last look at Spider-Man Japan...

Jason Schachat

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